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NIGHT SKIES

Moon-Saturn conjunction

Moon-Saturn conjunction, looking east, March 1, at 9:00 p.m.

Looking southwest, March 15, at 8:00 p.m.

Looking southwest, March 15, at 8:00 p.m.

Save our skies

Be a considerate neighbor: Reduce nighttime glare. Shield all your outside lights downward (or turn them off completely) and enjoy the beautiful, starry night sky.

March 2007 night sky

—CHARLIE CHRISTMANN

RABBIT HUNTING
On winter and spring starry nights, you can witness Orion doing what he loves the most, hunting. With Canis Major, one of the sky’s hunting dogs, nipping at its furry heals, Lepus, the Hare is trying to speed past Orion in the night sky. Fortunately, Orion has his bow drawn and has his sights set on Taurus, the Bull.

You can find the Hare just at the feet of Orion, below Saiph and Rigel in the southwestern sky at about 8 p.m. Canus Major is the constellation to the left and Enidanus is to the right. Some say this is the perfect hiding place for the hare to stay out of the hunter’s sights.

There are several versions for the origins of Lepus around the world. According to one story, Orion, the famous hunter, loved to hunt hares, and so Lepus was placed in the sky for Orion's amusement. In other cultures, the hare often symbolized the Moon, a gently shining, traditionally feminine divinity often representative of fertility. The hare, according to Herodotus, could conceive while still pregnant. With the hare as the Moon and the eagle, Aquila, representing the sun, it is interesting that when Lepus rises in the east, Aquila is setting in the west.

The Arabs believed that the four brightest stars in Lepus represented four camels drinking from the river Eridanus, another nearby constellation, while early Egyptians believed Lepus to be the boat of Osiris. In India, it is believed that Buddha, before reaching enlightenment and in his incarnation as Sakyamuni the hare, met with Indra. Indra was disguised as a beggar when he met Buddha and his companions, a monkey and a fox. Putting the three to a test, Indra asked for something to eat. The hare found nothing appropriate, but built a fire and threw himself into the flames to offer as food to the beggar. In thanks for his sacrifice and hospitality, Indra placed the hare in the heavens.

The Greeks believe the stars were placed in the sky in honor of the plague of hares brought upon the people of the island of Leros. After a pregnant hare was imported to the island to bring sport and food, the animals began breeding beyond control and soon led to an infestation never before seen. Following the extermination of the hare from the island, the gods placed the hare in the stars as a reminder to man. Lepus occasionally represents the favored animal of the hunter Orion.

The alpha, or brightest star, in Lepus is Arneb, a supergiant, about 1,300 light-years away and 13,000 times brighter than the sun, shining at a magnitude of 2.6.

The beta star is Nihal, a yellow 2.8 magnitude star, about 160 light-years away. It is similar, but three times larger and 160 time brighter than our sun. Because of its size, it is aging more rapidly and in about a million years, it will brighten significantly as it changes from fusing hydrogen to helium to fusing helium to carbon.

The third brightest, or gama star, is to the left of Nihal. It has a magnitude of 3.6 and is about 29 light-years distant. The star is a wide double. The companion star is a magnitude of 6.18, so binoculars are needed to really see this pair. There is a good color contrast between the pair, which are described as yellow and garnet.

Get out the telescopes for this star, R Lepus, or Hind's Crimson Star. This star is a famous long period pulsating red variable. The magnitude ranges from 5.9 to 11 over a period of 432 days. At times, the star has been known to reach naked eye visibility in really dark skies, but this would be very rare. It lies around 1,500 light-years from earth, and is quite possibly the reddest star in the night sky. The color of the star is an intense smoky red, and it has been reputed to be the most beautiful star in the sky. Many observers say it is reddest at minimum brightness.

THE PLANETS AND THE MOON
• Mercury will be tough to spot as it becomes a morning star low on the eastern horizon before sunrise.
• Venus will be easy to spot, glowing brightly in the western sky after sunset. Look for a Moon-Venus conjunction on the 21st.
• Get up early to find Mars. It rises around 4:30 a.m.
• Jupiter rises around 1 a.m. this month. Look for a Moon-Jupiter conjunction on March 11. The bright star to the right of the Moon is Antares, in Scorpius.
• Saturn is up all night. On March 1, look for a Saturn-Moon conjunction about an hour after sunset. And again, the Moon and Saturn join together two hours after sunset on the 28th.
• The Moon is full on March 3rd, when there will be a total lunar eclipse from the eastern US. Unfortunately, in New Mexico, we will only see the tail end of the event at moonrise. It will not really be worth looking.
• The Moon will be new on the 18th, with a partial solar eclipse (87 percent) happening in Asia and Alaska.
• Daylight Saving Time starts this year on March 11th.

Happy Spring! The Vernal Equinox, when the Sun crosses the equator heading north, happens at 7:09 p.m. MDT.

If you have a question or comment for Charlie, you may e-mail him, at k5cec@yahoo.com.

 


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